Time for a Vacation?

I was emailing a friend and business associate and we were getting caught up on one another’s families. He said, “We have a place up at the lake that we have been to the past 3/4 weekends. Our need to take advantage of the warm weather and desire for time at the lake took precedence over baseball, so unfortunately there are no baseball stars in this house.” It got me thinking about the choices my family has made through the years because of sports, and wondering if we’d gotten it right.

I have four kids who all play sports, ages 22, 21, 18 and 16. So obviously, having that many children means that more time and money is being spent than a family with one or two kids. But we have lots of friends who take elaborate vacations – Hawaii, Europe, the Caribbean. Our last family vacation? One fluke weekend when no one had sports conflicts we went camping in the local mountains an hour away. And that was three years ago.

Last summer, I went by myself to see my son play baseball in Canada for three days. My wife went on two soccer trips with my daughter. This year the two of them have already flown for tournaments to New Jersey for a week, Seattle for a week, and now Virginia for the national championships, another week. We’re also taking her on college visits across the country. Not only do those airfares, hotels and rental cars put a dent in a vacation budget, they mean there’s no time left over to do anything else. Now I have another son playing his summer baseball in Canada and the oldest playing his first year of pro baseball in Florida. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get to see either one of them. And if I do go alone, that’s not a family vacation.

It wasn’t much better years ago. There was always a sports conflict and the incredible cost of travel teams impeding our options. There were constant out-of-town soccer tournaments, baseball showcase tournaments, (which were, by the way, a waste of time and money – for us anyway) and rigorous game and practice schedules that could not be disrupted. So no, my kids have never been to Hawaii, never been to Europe or the Caribbean. If you ask them their favorite vacation we ever took they’d probably point to the couple of times we’ve gone back to the Midwest and stayed with their aunt or their grandfather and got to hang out with their cousins who they rarely see. And even the last time we did that we worked in a couple of college visits for baseball.

When I was a boy, growing up in Indiana, we couldn’t afford to do anything elaborate on my father’s junior high school principal salary. But each summer we drove to Florida and stayed two weeks with my aunt and uncle who lived on a lake. Those memories are some of my fondest and I’m sure my siblings would agree. But there was no all-consuming summer ball back then. You played a light  schedule and even if you did miss a few games for vacation it was no big deal. Not like today.

If you asked my kids if they wished we’d done more family activities, specifically vacations, they’d unanimously say no. They’re too ingrained in sports. But they also don’t know what they missed and, unfortunately, neither do their mom or I. We don’t know if it would have been healthier, better for our family and ourselves if we’d cut back somehow on the sports and mandated a nice family vacation each year without any interruptions. And now we never will.

Has there been a payoff? In terms of money I guess you could say yes, there have been college scholarships. But I can say honestly that never played into our decisions. When the kids were younger I truly never dreamed that something like that might happen. We were doing it because it was what the kids wanted.

There is no easy answer. Each family has to make its own decision and hope for the best. I can’t say I have any regrets because I think our children have turned out pretty well and we have lots of great sports memories. But I do have twinges of sadness thinking about how fun it would have been to have spent more family time together. I guess everyone wants it all – wishes they could have the best of both worlds. And if there is a way you can manage to do both, I highly recommend it.

Brian Gotta is President of CoachDeck LLC (http://www.coachdeck.com). He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com.